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Honor flight ‘just incredible’ for Orland Park man

World War II veterans are welcomed home from an Honor Flight Chicago trip Midway International Airport Chicago's South Side Wednesday

World War II veterans are welcomed home from an Honor Flight Chicago trip at Midway International Airport on Chicago's South Side Wednesday July 11, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 14, 2012 6:27AM



When World War II Navy veteran Richard Soderlund returned to Midway Airport on Wednesday night from an Honor Flight Chicago day trip to Washington, D.C., he was shocked.

He thought he and his son-in-law, Herb Kucinskas, his chaperone for the trip, would just get in the car and ride back to his Orland Park home.

Instead, he and 88 other World War II veterans were met by more than 1,000 patriotic greeters, cheering for them as if they had just returned from the actual war back in the 1940s.

The Frankfort Brass Band was on hand to belt out patriotic tunes, while Miss Illinois Megan Ervin and other Miss Illinois finalists handed out American flags, autographs and kisses on the cheeks for the returning veterans.

“It’s incredible, just incredible,” Soderlund, 87, said as he made his way through the crowds of well-wishers and “welcome home” signs. “The whole trip was just so organized and topnotch.”

Soderlund went on the all-expenses-paid trip with Honor Flight Chicago after Kucinskas learned about the program.

Soderlund and the other veterans arrived at Midway Airport at 4:30 a.m., were treated to breakfast at the gate, and a performance by The Legacy Girls, who perform tributes to The Andrews Sisters.

In Washington, they were given the royal treatment before being swept away down memory lane, visiting war museums and memorials that tugged at their emotions.

Both men said it’s a trip they’ll never forget.

“It was great. It really was. But this isn’t about me,” Kucinskas said, pointing to Soderlund, “this is about him.”

The pair were something special to this trip — Kucinskas is a Vietnam War veteran. He was visibly moved by the journey but declined to discuss what he was feeling emotionally.

“He never talks about his experiences,” said his wife, Linda Kucinskas. “He has a lot of battle scars, but I know he was eager to take my father on this trip.”

Soderlund was being treated like a celebrity, being pulled away by strangers wanting to shake his hand. He even met Miss Illinois.

Soderlund said he definitely wants to make a return visit to Washington, saying it would take a week to see everything.

“The Iwo Jima monument was my favorite,” Soderlund said. “But everything was just so perfect over there.”

Soderlund, a father of three, grandfather to 10, great-grandfather to 16, and great-great-grandfather of one, said he especially enjoyed meeting other veterans and sharing war stories.

“It brings back old memories,” Soderlund said. He said he met one veteran, a Second Marine, who was rescued by Soderlund’s boat during the Battle of Saipan in the Pacific in 1944.

“We lost over 3,000 Marines the first day (of the battle),” Soderlund said. “It was a big mistake to bring them in during low tide, and they all got washed away.”

Soderlund served as a 1st Class Radar Man during the war after he was drafted at age 17. He went aboard the USS John Rodgers and arrived at Pearl Harbor the day after the attack. Soderlund said not a single man was lost aboard his ship.



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